GENERAL MOTORS AND THE COLD: IT’S ALL HAPPENING IN KAPUSKASING
(Article published in Automotive Innovations magazine, March 2023)
By Daniel Rufiange
Every automaker has at least one location where they test their vehicles in cold weather. For General Motors, that nerve centre is in Ontario – Kapuskasing, to be exact, a town about 10 hours north of Toronto.
From December to March, the mercury there regularly hovers around -30 degrees Celsius, making it a paradise for the kind of testing that each model destined for the market must endure. Yes, models of every General Motors product are sent to Kapuskasing to undergo a battery of tests to ensure their efficiency and durability.
A lot of testing
Since the most demanding exercises must take place from December to March, everything is concentrated. Vehicles are tested 24 hours a day, both on a 3.6 km road course built on the site and on an abandoned airport runway that allows dynamic routines on ice or in the snow. In addition, thanks to $16 million in investments over the past few years, GM’s Cold Weather Testing Center has been able to add equipment to take its certification processes even further.
For example, thirty cold chambers have been built. Each can replicate a -45 degrees Celsius climate, which is ideal for simulating freezing weather starts after an overnight or day-long shutdown.
A building was also erected to house two tracks that can recreate different road conditions to challenge the chassis and suspension and detect body noise. When a model passes the test, it is ready for the road. However, if small glitches or problem areas are discovered, the information is relayed to the production plant so the necessary corrections can be made.
In all, over a period of about 12 weeks, this simulates two years of use in winter driving conditions.
Not surprisingly, a visit to the site reveals that GM is also testing everything related to electric vehicles and their tolerance to the cold. The latter undergo the same exercises, in addition to having their range evaluated, both when it’s freezing and when it’s very hot. GM is careful not to tell us what losses the future models will experience when the temperature dips below freezing, but it is interesting to note that the evaluation provided to the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) is done in Kapuskasing.
In short, a visit to the centre makes you realize how complex the certification of a vehicle is… and how exhaustive!